Although patented back in 1843 — about 30 years before the telephone — the Fax machine did not become widely used until around the 80s.

This is around the same time as the Nintendo NES, Boomboxes, Sony Walkmans, pocket TVs and the Casio C-80 Calculator Watch. Yet the fax machine seems to have outlived all of these.

But the reality is that this technology was in use back in the days of the French Emperor Napoleon III when the ‘pantelegraph’ was used over state-owned telegraph lines for sending signatures.

So the joke goes something like this-

Michael Scott.

In the modern day, the risk associated with using these devices is that all computer systems are prone to infiltration. A fax machine is no different, but not only are they connected to your network; they are also connected to the outside world via a phone line, so essentially there is no firewall!

A research team has proven that the only information required to infiltrate a system, is the organization’s fax number, which could be part of an all-in-one fax, copier and printer- something which is often publicly available on any employee’s business card or company website.

How is this done? —

It is even more alarming when it is historically the industries that hold the most protected data which are still using these technological relics the most. But who really does use these the most? DeepMind Health Independent Review Panel Annual Report states- “The digital revolution has largely bypassed the NHS, which, in 2017, still retains the dubious title of being the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines.”

The other main users are the legal, banking and real estate sectors. Imagine an attacker using an exploit to forward copies of each of your bank statements to themselves, now that is a sobering thought.

It comes as good news then that the NHS has announced plans to abolish the use of these devices. NHS hospital trusts in England own a whopping 8,209 fax machines. Just one of these, Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust relies on an astonishing 603 fax machines!

A statement by Mr Richard Kerr, RCS Council member and chair of the Commission on the Future of Surgery sums up the situation — “The advances we are beginning to see in the use of artificial intelligence and imaging for healthcare, as well as robot-assisted surgery, promise exciting benefits for NHS patients… NHS hospital trusts remain stubbornly attached to using archaic fax machines for a significant proportion of their communications. This is ludicrous… As digital technologies begin to play a much bigger role in how we deliver healthcare, it’s absolutely imperative that we invest in better ways of sharing and communicating all of the patient information that is going to be generated. The NHS cannot continue to rely on a technology most other organisations scrapped in the early 2000s.”

The NHS will be banned from buying fax machines from next month and has been told by the government to phase out the machines entirely by 31 March 2020.

By Medicalchain’s Tim Robinson

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